Sheila Bennett is the executive director of CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees), a nonprofit organization dedicated to financially helping the families of restaurant workers that cannot work due to an illness or injury or have had other emergency life situations.
NRN: Can you tell me a bit about your organization for our readers who might not be familiar with it?
Bennett: CORE was founded by members of the beverage industry who recognized a need was not being met […] So they created CORE to help employees with children when either the parent who was the employee or their spouse undergoes a health crisis, injury or death, or they lose their home or place of employment due to a geological or natural disaster. We’ve evolved over the years and are slowly expanding beyond the beverage space. We're getting the word out that we're here as a resource for any kind of foodservice operation that has employees with children.
Why is this such an important safety net?
So many times, Americans are just not prepared for when some crisis hits their family and they are now out of work. Many times, employees in this industry are living paycheck to paycheck. […] We wanted to make sure that we do provide that financial safety net, so when someone goes through a crisis, they can apply for a grant with us. And we may cover things like their rent or mortgage, utilities, some out of pocket medical costs, and even basic necessities for their families.
How has your organization evolved recently?
In 2019, before I came on board with CORE, they granted out roughly $300,000, to employees with children, and 2020, we granted out close to $1.5 million. This year we’ve awarded about 500 grants on average about $2,500. At the same time, we improved our systems, the structure, the guidelines, and we put some new processes in place that were more efficient and can help families quicker. We now have an application in Spanish. […] We can now give out cobranded, trackable Visa gift cards as funds for families to use.
How do you determine eligibility for clients?
The applicant must be an employee in the food and beverage operations industry. Number two: they must have a child that they're legally responsible or responsible for up to the age of 18, or it may be a child with special needs, or still they're falling under their insurance and they're at college, etc. And then third, they must have a qualifying circumstance. We ask for documentation to prove all of that as well.
What are some examples of families you’ve helped?
We had a family in Dallas this past year that they had a fire their home and lost everything. Their company referred them to us, and we were able to provide a Visa gift card to them so they could buy necessities. I got another call from an organization, Hickory Tavern in North Carolina, and they had an employee who was a single mom and had a daughter diagnosed with leukemia. They called me and said, “well, we need CORE.” And we were able to help.
Can you tell me what this year’s Summer of Hope is?
It’s a personal giving campaign and we just extended it through Labor Day. We’re asking everyone in the industry to donate $5. We launched the first Week of Service where anyone can pick their day of service and distribute CORE posters and literature to the back of the house to restaurants in their community and specifically in underserved communities. […] Our goal is to raise $50,000 and so far, we have a long way to go and have raised just under $3,000.
We also heard you’ve launched a brand advocate program. Can you tell us more about that?
We just launched a brand advocate program to the entire industry, but it was inspired by a team member with Zaxby’s. […] Last year one of my friends who works with Zaxby’s realized that this is a valuable resource that can help some of their team members that were facing different medical events in their life. Two employees had premature births and their babies were in the NICU. One employee had a couple of brain surgeries. Another employee had a torn ACL and had had surgery. She realized that if she got the word out to them about CORE and helped them with their applications, we could provide a grant much faster. We’ve been talking to companies around the country.
Can you give me examples?
We have our first official partner: Smokey Bones BBQ, who chose us as their charity of choice. Zaxby’s is rolling out their program, and we’ve also been in touch with Lou Malnoti’s and Checker’s and Rally’s.
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